1660317248942 Stevehoferbidgrouparticles2

Machine builders bring transformation to the plant floor

Nov. 12, 2021

Digital transformation means a new kind of machinery with the ability to share data to the edge and the cloud. But change comes slowly and usually in waves. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are literally bringing transformation to the plant floor in the machines they build.

Three OEMs from different industries shared their organizations’ progress with industrial transformation during the OEM Forum at Automation Fair 2021 this week in Houston. “The wood-processing industries in North America have traditionally been slow adopters of new technologies,” said Steven Hofer, executive vice president of strategy and business development at BID Group, which provides integrated, automated equipment and solutions for sawmill customers. “We have 14 manufacturing locations around North America with 1,615 highly trained and motivated employees, including 183 engineers and technical staff. We’re booking equipment into late 2024 and 2025, so we know what that equipment looks like and what the materials look like.”

BID Group has developed Oper8, a purpose-built IIoT solution that gathers and analyzes data to monitor the health and operation of its machines.

“All of us have heard about digital transformation and Industry 4.0,” explained Mehul Shah, senior associate, LNS Research. “Everyone believes there is value in digital. Industrial transformation is the proactive and coordinated approach in leveraging digital technologies to create step-change improvement in industrial operations.”

The question is how to leverage these digital tools. The majority of industrial-transformation leaders found benefits in reducing cost of goods sold, improving operating margins and growing revenues. And, based on LNS Research’s studies, the top challenges in industrial transformation include security and hiring the right people.

“I’m lucky if I go into a plant and see the same operator who was there six months ago,” admitted Jonas Capistrant, applications engineering manager, Aagard. “Even though machines are built to run reliably, how do we bridge the gap to onboard new operators? We ‘re having to do that for our customers and create training videos. When the operator is happy, the machine runs better.”

Training is important for onboarding, but it also needs to be at the point of use. “When a new hire comes in, new content is available to them,” explained Capistrant. “But we put QR codes on machines to access content on how to repair equipment.”

Operators are less and less experienced, agreed Steve Ramsey, vice president of engineering and technology at Gencor Industries, which uses ThingWorx from PTC and designs and builds entire systems for the paving industry.

“There are high turnover rates,” said Ramsey. “Our customers tend to have a large portfolio of equipment. The transportation bill means more asphalt to manufacture and pavement to lay.”

Large, multinational companies have sustainability plans and zero carbon goals, explained Ramsey. “At some point, you’re not going to be an approved supplier of equipment if you can’t meet their long-term objectives,” he said. “European companies are trying to electrify everything so they can power it with renewable energy.”

The outputs of the wood-processing industry, which BID Group primarily serves in the United States and Canada, are pure commodities. “Our focus is to build very good machines with highly automated technologies,” explained Hofer, whose company designs its offerings with customers’ bottom lines in mind. “How do we help our customers achieve advanced levels of profitability? When we developed our own IIoT platform, we needed to show our customers how to translate that data into action. We also wanted greater visibility in the lifecycle of our equipment. A traditional sawmill complex would have had 250-275 people. Our operating environment that we offer today has about 115. We’ve changed the requirements. It’s not people touching lumber, but the technical resources.”

BID Group was challenged by Biewer Lumber, which operate a number of wood-processing facilities in Michigan, to build a sawmill using a different style with fewer employees. “We put our heads together and delivered that project in nine months,” said Hofer. “Today we’re on a 12-month track.”

BID Group sees its value-add in the management of the equipment lifecycle through connected intelligence and data collection and monitoring. “A big part of our platform is around acceptance testing,” said Hofer. “We want to own the entire lifecycle. We can’t drive what we want to achieve on aftermarket without visibility into our assets. But we have built a lot of rigor into our cybersecurity protocols.”

Aagard and Gencor each takes a different approach to accessing machine data. “The most common remote support is into a laptop; that’s critical to the success of troubleshooting,” said Capistrant.

“We use LogMeIn,” explained Ramsey. If the issue is with a component or device, such as a variable-frequency drive, Gencor will notify the supplier, such as Rockwell Automation to make the service call.

Get the best of Automation Fair 2021

The editors of Control, Control Design and Smart Industry are reporting live from Automation Fair. When the event comes to a close, the editors will compile a report of the best, most important coverage from the event. Register now to pre-order the report and be among the first to receive it in your inbox. Pre-order your copy now.

“We run two call centers, one in English and one in French,” said Hofer. “We have even talked about machine as a service. The opportunity for OEMs is to be at the forefront. Either we provide transformational technologies or someone else will. It took some courage in our executive team. But you have to resource it properly.”

BID Group knows its core competencies and utilizes the tools available to enable connectivity features. “We’ve embraced the entire technology suite from PTC,” said Hofer. “All of our interactive training manuals are built around their offerings. We’re using a Microsoft product to manage the learning.”

The real magic occurs when you take this abundant data and put it into the cloud, admitted Hofer. “You need to have some skills to interpret that,” he said. “Our data-analytics team has sawdust in their boots. That’s an important piece. Credibility is pretty important. You have to invest the time and get them trained in the industry.”

Manufacturing flexibility is critical in the packaging industry, added Capistrant. “Marketing changes what it wants all the time,” he explained. “Changeover has to be easy.”

At Aagard, growth isn’t limited by sales. It hinges on people and technology. “It’s how fast we can get people in our own company to build our own equipment,” explained Capistrant. “We’re not only pushing this technology but starting to use it ourselves.

Sponsored Recommendations

Measurement instrumentation for improving hydrogen storage and transport

Hydrogen provides a decarbonization opportunity. Learn more about maximizing the potential of hydrogen.

Get Hands-On Training in Emerson's Interactive Plant Environment

Enhance the training experience and increase retention by training hands-on in Emerson's Interactive Plant Environment. Build skills here so you have them where and when it matters...

Learn About: Micro Motion™ 4700 Config I/O Coriolis Transmitter

An Advanced Transmitter that Expands Connectivity

Learn about: Micro Motion G-Series Coriolis Flow and Density Meters

The Micro Motion G-Series is designed to help you access the benefits of Coriolis technology even when available space is limited.